Nageswara Rao Park is a landmark in Luz, Mylapore. A sylvan enclosure with broad walks, bowers and flowerbeds, it is a sight for sore eyes. In the mornings and in the evenings it is full of the fitness conscious jogging, walking and exercising. During weekends, budding Carnatic musicians perform concerts here in the mornings and many flock to listen. In the whispering hour of twilight, many couples can be seen cosily ensconced in the bowers and an eight-o-clock bell is religiously rung to warn them all to get up leave as it is closing time!
The Park was once a lake called Aratha Kuttai. The area surrounding this owes much of its development to two friends, both of whom came to Madras in the late 19th century to seek a livelihood. Both qualified in law and both made it big. And when one died suddenly, it was only a question of time before the other followed suit. They were V Krishnaswami Iyer (1862-1911) and PR Sundara Iyer (1863-1913).
They built palatial houses on both sides of Luz Church Road. Krishnaswami Iyer’s was called Ashrama and does not exist any longer. Krishnaswami Avenue came up on its grounds. But Sundara Iyer’s Sri Bagh still survives, a vast bungalow, now a mere empty shell. After Sundara Iyer’s death, his sons sold the house to ‘Desoddharaka’ Kasinathuni Nageswara Rao Pantulu, freedom fighter, writer and creator of the Amrutanjan balm which is popular even today. He was also the first to start a Telugu newspaper, the Andhra Patrika which is still being published. Nageswara Rao built the Amrutanjan offices on the Sri Bagh grounds. In his time the house was a venue for nationalist meetings and it was here that the famous Sri Bagh Agreement was signed which eventually saw the formation of a separate Andhra state.
Next to Sri Bagh came up two major Mylapore landmarks – One is the Ranade Hall, named after Mahadev Govinda Ranade (1842-1901), Judge and reformer. The foundation stone for this building, which was part of the South Indian National Association founded by Krishnaswami Iyer and Sundara Iyer, was laid by Gopalakrishna Gokhale, the social reformer and freedom fighter in 1905. It boasts of a library of antiquarian books which few use. But its reading room is still patronised by many. On the first floor, many years later, came up Srinivasa Sastry Hall, named after the Rt. Hon. VS Srinivasa Sastry. This has been a popular venue for Carnatic music performances since long. Next to Ranade Hall is the Mylapore Club, founded in 1904 as the Proprietors Club by V Krishnaswami Iyer. Today, after a century it is still going strong.
This part of Mylapore still retains an extended tree cover with many old buildings and is a charming place to walk by.
(On a very personal note and this will not appear in the Times of India- this was a park I loved and still love. I have spent many happy hours here as a kid. It has a sad association for me also. When I was five, one evening I insisted that someone take me there. My grandfather, who really doted on me was not too well and yet he took me over. But within a few minutes of being there he said we should return. We did, only to have him collapse as soon as we reached home. He was bed-ridden for two years after that and passed away on May 24th 1973. )